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Courier Journal reporter who couldn't type was actually spy
Dec 01

Editors Note An AP Member Exchange.

By ANDREW WOLFSON
Courier Journal

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ When 28-year-old Robert H. Campbell was hired as a Courier Journal reporter in December 1964, he couldn't type and seemed to know little about writing a newspaper story.

He lived at the YMCA and was paid $125 a week, but he could afford to fly home to St. Louis every other weekend to see his wife and children. And he left the newspaper after only four months.

An assistant city editor later said the stuff that Campbell turned in was ``almost unreadable'' and that ``there was something very strange about the whole thing.''

In 1976, another Courier Journal reporter discovered Campbell's secret.

``Evidence developed during a newspaper investigation strongly indicates that Campbell was an undercover agent for the Central Intelligence Agency,'' James Herzog wrote in a long expose.

A CIA spokesman at the time refused to confirm or deny that Campbell worked for the agency. When Herzog went to Campbell's townhouse in McLean, Virginia, about five minutes from CIA headquarters, and asked his wife if he was a CIA agent, she replied, ``If he was, I wouldn't blab it to you.''

And the two men who had been the newspaper's top executives in 1964, editor Barry Bingham Sr., and executive editor Norman Isaacs, insisted to Herzog they knew nothing about the CIA planting an agent in the newsroom.

But Herzog, a dogged reporter, proved almost beyond certainty that Campbell had been hired with Isaacs' knowledge to give him experience and a plausible cover if he were placed overseas by the agency in the guise of a reporter.

Herzog was never able to track down Campbell, whose entire resume submitted to the newspaper turned out to be fabricated.

In August 2018, though, the Courier Journal finally found evidence that seemed to confirm what Herzog had strongly suspected: an online review of a book published in 2009 about the CIA's covert operations in Tibet in which the reviewer, Robert H. Campbell, described himself as a ``27-year veteran of the CIA's Clandestine Service.''

Campbell was one of more than 400 American journalists who secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency, Carl Bernstein reported in a 1977 story in Rolling Stone, which cited documents on file at CIA headquarters.

Among the executives who lent their cooperation to the agency were William Paley of CBS, Henry Luce of Time Inc., Arthur Hays Sulzberger of the New York Times and Barry Bingham Sr.

The story said the agency paid Campbell's salary in Louisville.

Though Bingham Sr. and Isaacs told Herzog they had nothing to do with the hire, a former managing editor, Ben Reeves, by then a Capitol Hill staffer, told him Issacs had confided that when he was in Washington in 1964, he was invited to lunch with an old friend at the CIA who said ``he wanted to send this young fellow down to get him a little knowledge of newspapering.''

Herzog looked at Campbell's personnel file and found that no effort had been made to check his background. He'd been placed at the Courier Journal by a company called Economic News Distributors that Herzog discovered was a CIA front and had ``long since disappeared, leaving no forwarding address. '

The Dallas-based company said Campbell spent three years in Kenya studying the language and history of the country and had written two books, including an ``Anthology of Swahili.''

``We are desirous of broadening the experience of one of our junior feature writers,'' the company wrote, ``and are interested specifically in giving him the opportunity to work for some months on a large well-known newspaper.''

Herzog found Campbell had apparently been at the intelligence agency since 1959.

In his short stint at the Courier, he wrote three stories, including one about an 83-year-old motorist who had an unblemished driving record stretching back to 1907. One of his projects, a feature story about carved wooden Indians, was never published but posted in the newsroom for years, an object of ridicule.

Campbell was a regular at Teek's World Famous New York Bar, a newspaper watering hole in Louisville, and supposedly told drinking buddies he had a CIA connection.

He left the paper suddenly, and in a Christmas card he sent to a reporter later that year, he said he was in Malaysia working as a correspondent for Life magazine. But Herzog found the company had no record of him ever working there, and no bylines with his name ever appeared in the magazine.

Herzog left the Courier Journal in 1977 to work in Washington for the Scripps-Howard News Service. He died of cancer in 1982, at age 39.

Bingham died in 1988 and Isaacs, a nationally prominent editor who was running the Wilmington News & Record when Herzog interviewed him, died in 1998.

In 1976, CIA director George H. W. Bush announced the agency would no longer enter into any ``paid or contractual relationship with any full-time or part-time news correspondent accredited by any U.S. news service, newspaper, periodical, radio or television network or station.''

A CIA spokeswoman said it cannot confirm or deny that anyone ever worked for the agency _ no matter how long ago.

Robert H. Campbell, 82, lives in McLean, Virginia, about four miles from CIA headquarters. Responding to a letter from the Courier Journal this fall, he confirmed he worked for the agency but like a good spook, initially wouldn't say anything on the record.

But in a follow-up email, he said he was placed at the newspaper by CIA Director Richard Helms, who was friends with Isaacs from their days in the late 1930s as fellow newsmen in Indianapolis.

Campbell also said Helms, the spymaster who died in 2002, told him that Isaacs had talked to Bingham Sr. about the cover assignment, and he had given his approval.

More than 50 years after the fact, Campbell defended his work on the wooden Indians.

It was a wonderful article,'' he said. ``It took me two weeks to write the damn thing.''

Campbell declined to elaborate on his career with the agency, though he said he was once national security officer for all of Africa.

``I just want to keep out of trouble,'' he said. ``The agency can generate a lot of that, particularly now, and I don't have time for it.''

___

Information from: Courier Journal, http://www.courier-journal.com


By The Associated Press, Copyright 2018